India’s Infamous Thuggee Cult


Image: Harappa

Group of Thugs, 1863, photographer unknown.

They were evil incarnate in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – which was briefly banned in India for alleged racism. Their name is the root of the modern English word ‘thug’. And a few centuries ago these bad boys were responsible for the mass murder of tens of thousands of travelers. Here’s a look behind the myth at India’s mystery-shrouded Thuggee cult: bands of roving stranglers who robbed and killed many folks making their way unwittingly across the sub-continent.

History is quick to point out what nasty pieces of work these Thuggee types were; they’re even in the Guinness Book of Records, with over two million kills attributed to their deadly hands. There have been stacks of Western attempts to make sense of the phenomenon: pirates of the plains, brigands of Bengal – but buccaneer and bandit likenesses like these don’t do justice to the singularly sinister way in which the original Thugs went about their business.